most interesting conversation i have ever had at an industry analyst event

“Oh, you’re from Sydney? You know Nowra? I flew into Nowra when I was in the Navy. I piloted a P3, a submarine tracker. I followed Chinese and Russian nuclear submarines. We had Sonobuoys. You know what a Sonobuoy is?”

“Yes! My Dad helped build one!”

“Really? Cool! So there are 48 attached to the outside, all pre-set, and 36 inside that you can set. They’re all set for 90, 400 or 1000 feet. Different sonar channels at different temperature channels in the water. You drop them ahead of where you think the sub is, and you track the sub that way. Three, four hour missions, that’s all the range you have. Big lumbering beast of a plane.”

“Did you like it?”

“I loved it when I was in college in Annapolis, then a junior officer, all the way up to lieutenant. I went to Australia with my own plane and eight crew and we were basically on our own. Flew into Nowra, had four days off – went to Sydney, had a great time – flew one mission, the Battle of the Coral Sea Memorial. It was sweet!

“But when you get to the next level up, lieutenant commander, that’s when it gets crazy political. It’s all about who’s sucking up to the next guy.

“The P3 is a four-prop plane, and you can fly it on two props. We’d fly over the subs and do everything but open the bomb bay doors. When it was one of our own subs, we’d open the bomb bay doors and do everything but drop the torpedoes on it. The idea is that if anything happens, you’re trained and know exactly what you need to do.

“I was stationed at Adak Island for six months. It’s in the Aleutian Islands, three islands away from Russia. It was summer, but yeah, it was pretty cold. I fished a lot. I don’t even eat fish! I just liked catching them. They were huge!

“I was there when the Gulf War started and they were going to send us to Iraq. They were teaching us combat maneuvers! In this lumbering beast! It was like a bullseye in the sky. But we had an amazing radar. We could spot a ship seventy miles out, and I could read the letters on the side. I could tell you what ship it was. So the idea was that we’d hang back and tell the bombers what to target. But we never went.

“This war? I just don’t know. I mean, you know I’m conservative or I wouldn’t have gone into the military, but… At the end of my time I had a hundred and seven people working for me, and I just can’t imagine… You feel a sense of ownership. It’s one thing sending people for missions where you know what it’s for, but when it’s like this… you know, the military is not a police force.

“When I was at Annapolis, I was on the battalion staff. There are six companies to a battalion and the staff are drawn from each company. And here we were at college and my roommate’s girlfriend was sneaking in and staying overnight, and no one knew because we were on staff…

“After I left I ran ROTC at UCLA, which was strange. I think it was harder on those guys than it ever was on us at Annapolis. People would come to see us doing drill in our uniforms, but the ROTC guys were in their uniform one day a week and just ordinary students the rest of the time… people gave them a hard time. One of my jobs there was as a CACO, a casualty assistance something something… it meant telling people their sons were dead. I did it three times in two years. It was hard.

“These days, that’s a full time job.

“That friend of mine from Annapolis? He and I were flying out of Moffatt Field. And when you change shifts, the two planes have to change altitudes and trade places, and at the same time you’re handing off the Sonobuoys. So there’s two handoffs going at once, and it’s hard. You hold onto the Sonobuoy, it’s the only thing you know for sure; when the needles flicks over, you’re directly over a buoy. You say ‘I’m here and going 090,’ and the other pilot says ‘I’m doing 180’, and then you should be able to change altitudes. Well, something went wrong and the planes collided, and the top one was full of gas…

“And it was me, again, who told her. It was the same girlfriend, his wife now, and the CACOs had done a bad job, letting her think they were just missing. I got there and she said ‘Have you heard anything?’ So I had to tell her. Two fully loaded planes. All they ever found was a helmet.

“Still, when you go into the Navy you know, you know what the risks are. That’s all part of what you buy into. This war? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think this is what the military is for.”

“Any regrets?”

“No. None. It is weird, though. Another friend of mine, that I went to high school as well as well as Annapolis with, he’s commander of a nuclear submarine now. He’s like the third most powerful entity on earth. There’s the USA, Russia and then him.”

“Hmm. Good guy?”

“Very good guy.”

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